Josh Ho-Sang has been a drafted member of the NHL for less than two months, but he's quickly making a name for himself as an outspoken, opinionated, brash player.
What a wonderful thing.
“If I was a general manager and had first pick in the draft, I’d pick me No. 1," Ho-Sang said in an interview with the Toronto Sun's Steve Simmons just before the draft. "In three years, I’ll be the best player in this draft. And I have no doubt about that. I know myself. I know the other players. I believe in my ability. There are guys ranked ahead of me who are nowhere near me."
Those kind of words and that kind of confidence will earn a player a lot of detractors.
But what adds to his intrigue is that Ho-Sang really is a very talented hockey player. Drafted 28th overall by the New York Islanders at June's draft, Ho-Sang scored 32 goals and 85 points in 67 games with the OHL's Windsor Spitfires last season. If not for the personality that some find off-putting, he could have been picked even higher. THN's Draft Preview has its rankings determined by polling NHL scouts - Ho-Sang was ranked 27th.
"If you're looking for pure talent, few in this draft have more than Ho-Sang," his writeup in Draft Preview says. "But there are real concerns in the scouting community that Ho-Sang is too much of an individualist on the ice and lacks discipline off it. Some players mature and grow and it's not a problem, but it remains to be seen if Ho-Sang can do that. He has shirt-flapping speed and good skill, which leads to him trying to do too much on his own. 'He'll play in the NHL,' said another scout. 'But I view him more as Robbie Schremp than Nazem Kadri. I'm not sure you can get through to him.'
The Islanders had two picks in the first round and used one to take Michael Dal Colle at No. 5. Playing with house money, they were the team to take a chance on Ho-Sang at 28. There were reports that indicated some teams had Ho-Sang on a Do Not Draft list and less than 20 teams interviewed him at the combine. In that Simmons piece, he wrote: I asked a chief scout with a late pick in the first round whether he would select Ho-Sang if he was available, and without hesitating, he answered no. When I asked why, he said there are certain criteria his organization values, “and if I picked him, my scouts would all revolt. He doesn’t fit what we’re looking for.”
The veils of organizational values and culture can make a franchise (or federation) blind to the potential payoff a young player could bring, even if he has undeniably sublime talent. Ho-Sang is perceived as a Robbie Schremp right now because of his words, not his play. But in analyzing just his skills, why couldn't he be a Nazem Kadri?
Recently, Tyler Seguin was in a similar position. The Boston Bruins traded him away to Dallas last summer because he was perceived as immature, soft and didn't fit in with the tough Bruins Way. In the video below, listen to how some of the Bruins staff talk about Seguin and why they believed he was expendable. Then consider how ridiculous some of these comments sound with hindsight of his 84-point 2013-14 season, which ranked him fourth in NHL scoring.
Seguin was 21 at the time of the trade. Rather than worry about the young man's maturity or fitting into a personality model, his skills and the team's desire to work with him should ultimately have been the determining factor. Think he'll be a star or has a good chance of becoming one? Keep him. End of discussion.
The jury is still out on how good of a pro Ho-Sang will be, but he's closer to a Seguin type than he is to a Kirill Kabanov, another flier the Islanders took in the third round of the 2010 draft. Kabanov may have slipped in the draft because of his enigmatic behavior, but he was never a first round talent.
Ho-Sang, who was a very capable linemate of Connor McDavid's with the Toronto Marlboros in midget hockey, always had that elite talent.
Which makes it curious that he has been snubbed from so many Hockey Canada events. Among his omissions, Ho-Sang wasn't invited to take part in the 2013 under-18 Ivan Hlinka tournament and more recently, was left off Canada's WJC summer development camp roster, which took place in early August. Two forwards taken after Ho-Sang in the 2014 NHL draft (Jayce Hawryluk, Brayden Point) were invited to the camp.
"The fact that I haven't been invited to a camp, it's insulting. I've done nothing to them (Hockey Canada). It's not like they invited me to U17 and U18 and I messed up at all that stuff. I haven't been invited back since my first year in the OHL in December. It's been a year and a half; I haven't been a part of any Hockey Canada stuff."
"They can't invite me to that stuff because they're afraid. If I go there and do well, then they have no reason not to put me on the World Junior team."
Those comments are bound to bring on haters who despise his cockiness and want him to fall in line. That comes with the territory. He doesn't follow the mold in that way and because he's different, he'll always raise flags. And while we love hearing these unabashed opinions, he certainly isn't doing himself any favors to get future invites from Team Canada - maybe he does still need to learn how to better carry himself as a professional. But as a recently drafted 18-year-old, is that really such a crime? It's hardly reason to ignore a player.
Organizational values are a nice thought and all, but what really needs to be looked at right now is Ho-Sang's talent on the ice. Is he good enough? Does he have the desire, the drive, the commitment necessary to be a player at the next level, and then the one after that? Ultimately, that's what's going to define his growth as an NHL prospect or Team Canada hopeful.
"If you're going to alienate an 18-year-old kid, like good job. Their job is development and progression of Canadian hockey," Ho-Sang said to TSN. "If I am a problem child, that means they don't like problems, that they have an issue with fixing things, that they like when things are easy. That actually means that they don't possess the ability to develop and that they are just taking players to fit their role that have been developed somewhere else."
When we judge what kind of a player Ho-Sang is, we should be focusing on his hockey skills, but even if you obsess over his words, what do you hear? Do you hear a cocky player whose opinion of himself is too much for his own good? Or, do you hear a player who wants the world, who wants to win and compete with the best and who wants to be developed to reach those lofty goals?
Ho-Sang doesn't seem like a player unwilling to put in the work, something that will eventually catch up to a lazy player. On the contrary, he really wants to be Patrick Kane or Sidney Crosby or John Tavares, which seem like crazy, unattainable dreams right now. But is setting the bar high not a good thing? Would it be better if Ho-Sang were a quiet, content player who teases like Patrik Stefan or Kyle Wellwood, two players with natural skill who left so much on the table?
There's plenty of time for a team to tone down Ho-Sang's rants, though even that seems like an unattainable dream right now. In a perfect world, Ho-Sang would reach his career goals and maintain his outspokenness, providing us with hours and hours of entertainment and pages and pages of blog posts dedicated to his sound bites. As long as a player has the natural skill and is determined to put in the hard off-ice work to stay on track, vague perceptions about maturity level and having a cookie-cutter attitude become such minor factors in that player reaching his full impact potential. If your judgment about this player relies on those off-ice factors, you're doomed to regret. Right now, at 18, teams should first be focused on Ho-Sang's salivating skill level and harnessing it, then dealing with any problems if they ever do arise.
Like any freshly-drafted prospect, Ho-Sang has an unknown future at the highest professional level, but his natural abilities at least give him a leg up. Is he a potential risk because of how brash he is? Perhaps. Every prospect is a potential risk, though. Ho-Sang is also a potential NHL stud, if it goes according to his plan. Nothing ventured, nothing gained for teams that choose to look the other way.
Tyler Seguin was, and still is sometimes, considered a risk, too. You'd probably like to have him on your team, though.